As San Diego Comic Con 2023 approached I found myself ticketless for the biggest pop culture event of the year. I’ve been proudly attending yearly since 2007 and attended my first convention in 1986. I couldn’t imagine the event coming and going and not being able to share in the excitement. It’s become an experience I look forward to each year. Then my wife reminded me that I had always commented about the many off-site experiences that I hadn’t been able to attend while running from one panel to the next. That thought made me realize that I didn’t need to miss the event, I just needed to have a different experience.
The San Diego Convention Center which hosts SDCC is nestled in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. Fifth Avenue leading to the convention center is closed to vehicular traffic to accommodate the foot traffic and makes the perfect environment for entertainment companies and studios to build pop-up off-sites. The area businesses get into the act by making specialty menus and theming to enhance the entire experience.
This week was a bit hotter than normal and sunblock was definitely going to be a part of my gear. I brought a backup battery pack, water and a couple of different hats. Many of the off-sites had a pre-registration which I missed out on, so I knew the standby lines were going to be for me. I was also very aware that some lines might get capped and would have to strategically figure out what order to visit the experiences to maximize my time.
I do want to point out that for the leisurely local who only had a few hours, just walking around the Gaslamp is an experience in and of itself. There were plenty of companies handing out swag including magazines, collectable cards, bags and other novelty items. There were plenty of cosplayers to take pictures with and a few street musicians. BOXLUNCH, a company that supports feeding America, had a truck setup. After a short wait in line and a quick registration of your email you received ice cream and a specialty bag with a surprise gift. Mine was an exclusive Spider-Man Funko Pop.
Behind the convention center HULU had a large off-site featuring Futurama, Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy called“Ani-Mayhem.” The experience was a walkthrough with quite a few photo ops of cleverly designed props to make you feel like you were in the cartoon world. Timing your visit around lunch time even scored you Bob’s Burgers Sliders and Fries! After your visit you were treated to a parting gift of a comic-designed backpack and an exclusive Futurama pin set.
Nearby, HULU’s Only Murders in the Building had an interactive “find the clues” video game which awarded you an exclusive item from the show based on the number of clues you were able to uncover. That stop also had a photo op as part of the setup.
Adult Swim had a festival experience featuring carnival style games, a t-shirt silk screening station, a bucking hotdog and live music! When I was there Ginger Root had taken the stage.
FX had a great immersive experience featuring a variety of their shows. An artic scene for the upcoming A Murder at the End of the World and a Japanese village for Shogun. The Shogun stage was home to a brief live action choreographed fight scene. American Horror Story and What We Do in the Shadows were also featured and there was a wheel for winning swag.
Internet Movie Data Base had their IMDB yacht docked on the pier They welcomed you aboard with a swag bag and drink tickets for the bar they had set up. There were snacks and trivia game with prizes. You could sit back and relax while enjoying the view of the bay from the upper deck. It was a great place to take a well-deserved break.
AMC featured Anne Rice’s Immortal Universe which was a walk down the street of Immortality. The terrace of the hotel was transformed into a New Orleans street with clear ties to Interview with a Vampire. You were taken to a bar to sip the “Elixir of Immortality” and interact with characters in the experience. Swag included a bag, sheet music and a small bag of “mint” which is some type of talisman.
Quantum Leap from NBC and Peacock+ was an interactive experience that took you through a variety of scenes to put right what once was wrong. Following the theme of the show you were made to feel like you were leaping through time to fix Law and Order, The Voice and Chucky. For Law and Order your group collected evidence then, leaped to a small area where singing was required, only to be surrounded by Chucky dolls in an effort to find a missing box. It was corny and fun at the same time.
The local Super7 Store had been transformed to Cobra Headquarters that featured many of Super7’s GI JOE collection. They had a couple of awesome displays but were pretty mums the word about the Cobra Mother Ship that was a standout.
Hasbro also had a pop-up store nearby and had various items for sale including two of the convention exclusives. I expect that store would have been more crowded if all of the convention exclusives were available. They had some vintage displays and offered free action figure design sheets just for visiting.
Conveniently enough, I didn’t even need to buy any food while running around to all of the free events. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles photo op had free pizza a couple of times a day. The IMBD boat had fresh fruit and snacks, Bob’s Burgers had the sliders I mentioned. At multiple locations I had free ice cream, or popsicles. Zevia even had reps walking around with cooler backpacks handing out root beer and vanilla cola flavored cans of soda.
If you were looking for more food, the Interactive Zone near Petco Park had food trucks and a large sitting area as well as a few photo ops. Of course, being in the Gaslamp there were plenty of restaurants to sit and enjoy some outstanding food.
The accessibility from the convention center to the Gaslamp and these interactive off-sites made it easy to meet up with people who you may only know through social media. I had the opportunity to catch up with friends and meet people for the first time. One of the greatest parts of SDCC is connecting with people from all over who share similar interests and finally getting to put a face and name to a social media handle.
Overall, I filled my days enjoying each experience without the stress of worrying about the next panel or waiting in a vendors line to score a convention exclusive. I went around at my own pace and met plenty of nice people at every experience. If you ever find yourself in San Diego during Comic Con, don’t let a lack of ticket hold you back. There’s plenty of free activities to get a quality and unique convention experience.